OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Top nuke regulator faces Congress

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko made the rounds on Capitol Hill Monday in an attempt to reassure lawmakers that U.S. nuclear reactors can withstand major natural disasters. He also appeared at the daily White House press briefing.

“Right now, we continue to believe that nuclear power plants in this country operate safely and securely,” Jaczko said during the White House briefing.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that policymakers must be cautious about nuclear power in light of the disaster in Japan.

“I don't think we should just eliminate the need for nuclear power, but I think it's something we have to look at very calmly and deliberately,” he said.

Expect Republicans and Democrats to clash over nuclear safety.

Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have called for an investigation into whether the country’s nuclear plants can withstand major earthquakes and tsunamis.

But House Republicans on the panel, who largely support a major expansion of nuclear power, have warned against a rush to judgment on the safety issue. The lawmakers have called for streamlining nuclear power licensing at the NRC. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the panel’s Energy and Water subcommittee, told The Hill Monday that he plans to push Jaczko on the issue in a hearing Wednesday.

Jaczko will testify alongside Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the House hearing.

Chu on Tuesday said U.S. standards are robust. “The American people should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly,” Chu told a House panel Tuesday.


NEWS BITES:

Senate climate votes?

As E2 reported earlier Tuesday, there’s a push to hold Senate votes on competing plans to block or stall EPA climate regulations (check out our posts here and here and here).

But it was unclear late Tuesday evening whether the Senate showdown would materialize at all.

Stay tuned.

Sen. Paul calls for major cuts to Energy Department budget

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced an amendment to a small-business bill Tuesday that would cut overall federal spending by $200 billion. The proposal would call for cutting the Energy Department’s budget by 50 percent.

Senators to introduce 'use it or lose it' oil lease bill

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are planning to introduce a bill Wednesday that would require companies to develop plans on how they plan to tap unused oil and gas leases.

It’s the latest effort by Democrats to push companies to use their leases, and it's a sign of pushback against growing GOP calls to open more areas to drilling. President Obama has instructed the Interior Department to report back to him in the coming weeks on the number of unused oil-and-gas leases on public land.

Lawmakers introduce bill to regulate ‘fracking’

Lawmakers reintroduced legislation Tuesday to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate a natural-gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing — dubbed “fracking” — under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the bill in the House. Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced the bill in the Senate.

Under fracking, water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground in order to get access to valuable natural-gas deposits.

The New York Times ran a series of articles raising questions about the health effects of fracking in recent weeks.


ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

Senate briefing on Japanese nuclear crisis

 
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a briefing to hear from Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko. He will discuss the “the ongoing crisis associated with nuclear power facilities in Japan, as well as the potential ramifications for the United States,” an advisory states.
 
The committee will also hear from officials with the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s main trade group, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
 
House panel to talk nukes too
 
Jaczko and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The hearing was initially planned to discuss the two agencies’ fiscal year 2012 budget plans, but look for discussion of the Japanese nuclear crisis to dominate.

Oil spill commission co-chairs to testify

National oil-spill commission co-chairmen Bob Graham and William Reilly will testify Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on their final report on last year’s Gulf oil spill. Graham and Reilly have pointed to “systemic” problems within the oil industry and they’ve criticized the administration for its initial response to the spill.

Jackson to testify on EPA budget

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will testify before a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee Wednesday on her agency's budget. It's the latest in a slew of recent appearances for Jackson on the Hill.

House panel to look at Energy science budget

A House Appropriations Committee panel will hold a hearing on the Energy Department’s science budget.

Group to release survey on rising gas prices

The Consumer Federation of America will release a survey “on the impact of spiking gas prices and Mideast oil dependency.”

Briefing on natural gas and transportation

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute will hold a briefing on using natural gas as a transportation fuel.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Here’s a quick roundup of E2’s Tuesday stories:

— Energy Secretary Steven Chu said U.S. nuclear experts are in ‘close contact’ with the Japanese.

— House Republicans rejected a series of climate science amendments.

— Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) stressed Tuesday that a review of nuclear safety should be done quickly.

— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced an amendment to a small-business bill to block EPA climate rules.

— House Democrats pressed the U.S. nuclear regulator on earthquakes.

— House lawmakers agreed that there is ‘scientific concern’ about climate.

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he will allow a vote on McConnell’s amendment to block EPA climate rules.

— Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) was cool to the amendment to block EPA climate rules.

— The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to approve a bill to eliminate EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

— Environmentalists mobilized against a Senate amendment to block EPA climate regulations.

— Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced an amendment to delay EPA rules for two years.

— The State Department called for more environmental review of a controversial oil-sands pipeline.

— A federal appeals court gave the Interior Department a reprieve from a ruling to make decisions on oil-and-gas permits.


Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

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